I’ve taken up a new sport – target shooting! If you had told me a year ago that I’d be going to the shooting range on a regular basis I would certainly have told you that you had me confused with someone else. And I would have been wrong. There are many reasons why I’ve picked up this sport, and I’ll leave the discussion of those for another blog. Today I want to share general lessons about my journey to learn a new sport.

When Phil and I decided to take up target shooting, we first signed us up for a gun safety class. The class included eight hours of classroom instruction followed by a couple of hours at a shooting range.

I was intimidated. But the instructor was great and he quickly put us at ease in both locations. So eventually we were trained enough to feel comfortable to go to the range alone. With our new guns. And comfortable is a relative term.

I share all this so that you understand two things:

  1. We approached the sport with a “safety first” perspective. I understand that talking about guns and target shooting can make some people uncomfortable. It did me.
  2. I was way out of my element. I had one afternoon of pistol safety, handling and shooting instruction before I became an Air Force officer…thirty-five years ago! I didn’t shoot well enough then to “qualify” – that is, be recognized as passing the training. It was OK because I was clearly headed for a desk job.

Let me repeat: I was out of my element. No computer, no desk, no pulpit. Just guns, ammo and the outdoors. Oh, and hearing protection. Trust me, no one looks good in hearing protection. And I had absolutely no idea how to hear what Phil was saying to me when I was wearing it! Ears on, ears off…ears on, ears off. No one else on the range seemed to be having this problem. Ugh. (FYI, I’ve since cracked the code – you purchase special (that is, more expensive) ear protection that filters out loud noise but lets in conversation level noise. Phil got me a pair for Christmas!)

God has used this journey into a new sport to teach me some things about myself and my walk with Him. I’m finally ready to share them with you. (FYI, usually when God teaches me something you’re the first to hear about it. These lessons were different – it took me longer to process them and be ready to share them with you.)

I had fallen into a life that lacked risk-taking. The first thing that smacked me in the face when I took up target shooting was the realization that I was intimidated by not knowing things. I was embarrassed at not knowing what to do when things didn’t go as planned. I was intimidated when we went gun shopping. I didn’t know what questions to ask and I knew that I wasn’t using terminology correctly. “They must think I’m such a fool,” I’d think. I hadn’t realized that being knowledgeable was so important to me.

That’s when I realized that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less accustomed to not knowing how to do something. Not because I’ve grown older, but because I’ve lived a “safer” life during the process – I take less risks. I don’t like that. While becoming less of a risk-taker is normal as one grows older (it’s often called wisdom!), as believers in Christ, we ought to always be living a little on the edge. I was attending a business training webinar today and the speaker said something along the lines of your goals being too small (aka safe) if you can see yourself achieving them on your own. I want to have God-sized goals for my life. That means trying new things and taking God-ordained risks.

I like being good at things. (Hmmm, there’s got to be too much pride in that.) When we first started going to the range, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t very good at hitting the target! I was surprised by that but even more surprised at how much being good at something impacted how much I enjoyed it. I was consistently the worst person at the range. That embarrassed me. I struggled to enjoy a sport at which I seemed to have little ability.

I really liked many things about the sport – I was spending more time outdoors, I was getting more exercise, I was spending more time in leisure activities with my husband, I was learning something new. Those were all positives. The only negative was that I wasn’t good at it. And because of that, I really struggled to enjoy myself. It was as if my identity or worth was somehow connected to being good at a sport I was just learning. How stupid is that? Pretty stupid is the answer. Not being good at target shooting was the only thing that was keeping me from totally enjoying myself.

And I wanted to be enjoying myself. Phil was enjoying the sport a great deal and I wanted to share it with him. So I had to learn how to be happy with my poor performance – which is a strange combination of lowering my expectations while still keeping them high. If I was going to enjoy our range outings, I needed to not be negatively impacted by poor aim while still trying to get better at hitting the target. There are spiritual implications in that lesson. In Christ, I am called to always hope and always have faith, even when I don’t see the answers to my prayers becoming a reality. I’m to be content in whatever circumstances God has placed me. Enjoying target shooting has helped me to understand some of the dynamic tension at work in living contradictions.

Hitting the target requires keeping many disciplines in balance. There are many elements that go into accurate shooting – breath control, stance, site, trigger pull, for example. All are required to be successful. You can do pretty well by concentrating on just a couple of them, but to excel requires attention to detail in each area. I learned quickly that I could have everything right except trigger pull and I might as well have had none of them right. Conversely, when I got trigger pull down, I would shoot better if I remembered to breath correctly, but even when I forgot I’d hit still the target…perhaps not quite where I was aiming, but pretty close.

The same is true for our walk with the Lord. To have a healthy and dynamic relationship with God, we can’t rely on being consistent in just one discipline. I can pray regularly, but if I don’t pair that with reading Scripture, my prayers will soon be off the mark. They will quickly degrade into prayers that don’t focus on God’s desires and His plans. Similarly, I can prayer regularly and consistently read my Bible, but if I don’t put any of God’s commandments into action my spiritual journey will progress with a significant limp. If I don’t serve God and others in some way, I lose the opportunity to grow through sacrifice and working with others. And if I pray and read and serve well but my life lacks worship – spending time in intimacy with the Lord – I am at risk for becoming burdened by the disciplines and losing my first love.

My journey into learning a new sport has been interesting on many levels. Who would have thought that it would have included lessons about myself and God? I thought I was just humoring my husband because he thought it would be fun. God really does use all things for our good – even those things we’re not good at!

Let me encourage you today to challenge yourself in some new area. You, too, might be surprised at the lessons He has in store for you. So go ahead – make 2013 the year you learn something new!

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